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Captain Jack Crawford

Buckskin Poet, Scout, and Showman

Darlis A. Miller

Publication Year: 2012

Jack Crawford (1847–1917) entertained a generation of Americans and introduced them to their frontier heritage. A master storyteller who presented the West as he experienced it, he was one of America’s most popular performers in the late nineteenth century.

Dressed in buckskin with a wide-brimmed sombrero covering his flowing locks, Crawford delivered a “frontier monologue and medley” that, as one New York City journalist reported, “held his audience spell-bound for two hours by a simple narration of his life.”

In this biography, Darlis Miller re-creates his experiences as a scout, rancher, miner, reformer, husband and father, and poet and entertainer to reinterpret the American Dream and the lure of getting rich pursued by many during the Gilded Age.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xviii

In 1861, fourteen-year-old John Wallace Crawford sailed from his native Ireland, with a brother and two sisters, for the United States. His parents had crossed the Atlantic a few years earlier and had established a home in Minersville, Pennsylvania, in the heart of the nation's anthracite-coal region. ...

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pp. xix-xx

This book could not have been written without the generous help of many individuals. I am deeply indebted to Harriett Richardson, who had the foresight to preserve Captain Jack memorabilia, donating much of her collection to the Rio Grande Historical Collections at New Mexico State University Library. ...

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1. From Donegal to Fort Hell

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pp. 1-16

John W. Crawford was born March 4, 1847, in Carndonagh, County Donegal, in Northern Ireland during the Great Famine. His parents, John Austin and Susie Wallace Crawford, were of Scots descent; his father was a tailor by trade.1 Low-thatched cottages and tiny fields dotted County Donegal, a land of unsurpassed beauty with spectacular cliff scenery along its coast. ...

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2. Captain Jack in the Black Hills

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pp. 17-40

In mid-April 1876, warm spring weather descended upon the Black Hills in Dakota Territory, melting enough snow on the hills surrounding Custer City to make water available for panning gold in nearby creeks and gulches. Gold-crazed emigrants streamed into town—as many as three hundred arriving in one week.1 ...

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3. Chief of Scouts

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pp. 41-66

The "Sitting Bull Campaign" of 1876 coincided with the nation's celebration of one hundred years of independence. As tourists flocked to the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition to view the country's industrial achievements, columns of U.S. troops invaded the western hunting grounds of Sioux and other northern tribes. ...

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4. Cody, Cariboo, and the Victorio Campaign

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pp. 67-90

On January 8, 1877, the Buffalo Bill Combination thrilled a large audience at Boston's Beethoven Hall. The occasion was its performance of the sensational melodrama, The Red Right Hand; or, Buffalo Bill's First Scalp for Custer, loosely based on William F. Cody's exploits as a military scout. ...

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5. Post Trader at Fort Craig

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pp. 91-114

When Crawford parted company with Colonel Buell in Mesilla, his life entered a new phase. For the next five years, he devoted his economic to exploiting the economic resources of southern New Mexico, a region poised on the brink of a dynamic mining boom. His decision to relocate his family in New Mexico signaled his boundless faith in the territory's future. ...

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6. "The Campfire and The Trail"

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pp. 115-154

The American Dream, in fact, continued to serve as a magnet drawing tens of millions of immigrants across the seas in search of a better life. The tremendous nineteenth-century expansion in the United States helped to fuel the idea that anyone, no matter how poor, could achieve fame and fortune ...

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7. Special Agent

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pp. 155-178

On November 10, 1889, Special Agent John W. Crawford wrote in a small notebook: "Arrived at Roman A. Baca's Ranch 3 miles from San Mateo at 7:30 . . . had supper and sent Juan my Indian guide to town. Two big campfires in the foot hills. Evidently Indians having a big dance and lots of drunks." ...

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8. In Search of Fame and Fortune

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pp. 179-206

The year 1893 was not soon forgotten by the American people. Ushered in with a smug optimism that was reflected in the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, it ended twelve months later with the nation reeling from a full-scale depression. The winter of 1893-94 saw 20 percent of the work force unemployed and ill-clad men wandering the countryside looking for work. ...

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9. To the Klondike

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pp. 207-228

Gold! Gold in the Klondike! The news ricocheted across the continent, spreading a virulent strain of gold fever from coast to coast. The stampede began almost immediately following the arrival of two heavily ladened treasure ships on the Pacific Coast. ...

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10. Two Years in the Gold Fields

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pp. 229-246

Crawford spent two months on the Hootalinqua hastening to establish a base camp before the Yukon winter prevented access to the outside. He labored under the twin handicaps of a noncommunicative company president and a rebellious crew. His journal entry for July 19, 1898, reflects his growing frustration: ...

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11. "A Genius in Buckskin"

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pp. 247-272

Boston journalist Nixon Waterman labeled Captain Jack "A Genius in Buckskin" soon after his return from the Klondike. In introducing the Poet Scout to his readers, Waterman quoted a line from Shakespeare, "And one man in his time plays many parts," adding that in writing this line the bard of Avon must have had Captain Jack "in his mind's prophetic eye." ...

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Epilogue: "If I But Could"

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pp. 273-280

Jack Crawford spent his entire life in pursuing the American Dream. His quest took him from one part of the North American continent to another, from Ireland to the United States and then briefly back again to the British Isles. A man of remarkable talent and enormous drive, he had a personal magnetism ...


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pp. 281-338


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pp. 339-350


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pp. 351-363

E-ISBN-13: 9780826351906
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826351746

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2012